ST PETE BEACH, Fla.

“How can you ‘go’ to church?” asked Kim Hammond in a workshop at the Evangelism Conference, one of five conferences here comprising the Evangelism and Church Growth 2012 (ECG 2012) event. “We ARE the church!”

ECG 2012, comprising conferences on evangelism, new church development, youth ministry, collegiate ministry and church transformation, took place here July 30-Aug. 2.

Hammond, an Australian now ministering in Chicago with the Community Christian Church (CCC) ― a non-denominational, multi-site congregation ― spoke strongly for “missional Christianity” (which he also referred to as “apostolic Christianity’) which focuses less on buildings and formal membership and more on shepherding people into community outreach.

“Because we are shepherds, we just affirm people,” Hammond said. “We need to say and create an environment that thinks and believes the best in people. We need to look them in the eye and say, ‘Come on, let’s change the world together.’”  

CCC does this without paid staff or formal budgets. “The challenge is to create an environment where all the tangential stuff is moved to the edge to make room for apostolic movements,” Hammond said. “Churches tend to look inward, while movements are always launched from the margins. The trick is to lead missionally, not administratively, as with most pastors.”

Also in contrast with most churches, Hammond said, apostolic movements “count stories, not numbers. We should never, never ask people how many members their church has. We should be asking them to tell us stories of mission ― ‘What is your story and where is God and Jesus in your story?”

That kind of repeated storytelling is what leads to “apostolic movements that focus on what God and Jesus are doing, not on money or numbers,” Hammond insisted. “The best apostolic leaders are the good storytellers, those who are working at the edges and making the biggest difference. They’re not about labeling people but giving them permission to be themselves.”

Many churches just don’t see that “plain truth,” Hammond said. “Too many churches are hard on the outside ― difficult to break into ― and soft in the inside, not knowing who they are and what they should be doing,” he said. “We don’t make it easy to join, but everyone who makes a move toward Jesus should be applauded. Jesus sees people differently [than many churches].”

Churches should be striving to be the “third place” in their communities, Hammond said, referring to the cultural phenomenon of people finding that spot ― in addition to home and work or school ― where they feel a sense of belonging. Workshop participants identified several “third places”: the mall, Starbucks, the gym, sports organizations, pubs, hunting and fishing clubs, casinos.

“Why are churches so seldom on that list?” Hammond asked. “We should be sending our people out into the culture with the love of Jesus Christ, no trying to draw them out of it. We make it so hard for people to be disciples that they say, Sorry, that’s not for me.’”